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Republic players James McClean and Shane Duffy pay tribute to Martin McGuinness

Republic of Ireland midfielder James McClean has paid tribute to Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness following his death at the age of 66.

Derry-born McClean saluted the Sinn Fein politician via his Instagram account two days after learning of the death of close friend and Derry City skipper Ryan McBride.

He wrote: "Writing this with a heavy heart, bad week just getting worse. Woke to the passing of Martin just now, am not going to shy away in expressing either how I feel.

"Not only was he a hero of mine, someone I looked up to, a man that has done so much for Irish people and Irish people's freedom right to the very end, he was also a good friend and someone I had the pleasure of having a good relationship with, a man I met so many times, had the privilege to share many a great conversation with, a man that always text me before games wishing me luck, a man that through the well documented tough times off the field always let me know how brave I was standing by my beliefs, that I never was alone because I had his support and backing always.

"You will be sorely missed Martin, a great leader, a great hero and above all a great man. Thinking on all your loved ones."

McClean, who represented Northern Ireland at Under-21 level before opting to play his senior football for the Republic, found himself at the centre of controversy during his time at Sunderland when he refused to wear a commemorative poppy shirt in November 2012, and is still booed by Black Cats fans as a result of his stance.

He was also accused of turning his back on the British national anthem before a West Brom friendly in the United States in 2015.

McClean was not the only Ireland player to salute Mr McGuinness with injured defender Shane Duffy, another Derry native, tweeting: "More tragic news this morning, RIP Martin McGuinness, a true hero for many of us. God bless your family and close ones."

Duffy, who plays his club football for Brighton where five people were killed when the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel in 1984, received a series of replies, some critical and some supportive, before adding: "I'll always stand by what and who I support, it's the way I was brought up."

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